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Ask a conservation officer: Food plots are allowed for benefits they provide

Q: Why is placing food in the woods to attract deer considered baiting while planting a food plot is not?

A: Food plots are becoming quite popular with dedicated deer hunters in recent years, and the problem of baiting has unfortunately continued in some areas regardless of the strict penalties and steep consequences. There are a couple of key points that differentiate between the two, however, that hunters need to remember.

Bait piles, or piles of grain, fruit, etc., placed in the woods to attract deer can cause a shift in deer movement and prevent otherwise legal hunters in nearby areas from seeing their usual activity.

Our laws are considerably based on fair chase principles, and this false congregating of deer over a corn pile can give a very unfair advantage to the baiting violator(s) over both their quarry and their neighboring hunters. Bait piles also draw deer much closer together — even nose-to-nose in some situations — than they normally forage and can lead to much higher rates of disease transmission. Food plots, on the other hand, can congregate the animals but usually in a more dispersed area while also providing year-round benefits for many other forest inhabitants. Bait piles serve to benefit the unlawful shooting interests of a violator, while food plots can offer benefits to a wide group of wildlife while at the same time increasing a hunter’s wildlife involvement and possibly even his/her success.

As the season is again upon us where hunters are preparing for the upcoming archery season, some people do need reminding that a citation for hunting over bait carries fines in the hundreds of dollars, along with loss of hunting privileges for a time and forfeiture of the gun or bow used in the violation.

Matthew S. Miller is a Minnesota Conservation Officer with the Lake Superior Marine Unit. Send your questions to